Hate groups migrate online, making tracking more difficult

During one of the most politically divisive years in recent memory, the number of active hate groups in the U.S. actually declined as far-right extremists migrated further to online networks, a move that has made it harder to track adherents of white nationalist and neo-Nazi ideologies.

In its annual report, released Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center said it identified 838 active hate groups operating across the U.S. in 2020. That’s a decrease from the 940 documented in 2019 and the record-high of 1,020 in 2018, said the law center, which tracks racism, xenophobia and anti-government militias.

“It is important to understand that the number of hate groups is merely one metric for measuring the level of hate and racism in America, and that the decline in groups should not be interpreted as a reduction in bigoted beliefs and actions motivated by hate,” said the report, first shared exclusively with The Associated Press.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based law center said many hate groups have moved to social media platforms and use of encrypted apps, while others have been banned altogether from mainstream social media networks.

Still, the law center said, online platforms allow individuals to interact with hate and anti-government groups without becoming members, maintain connections with likeminded people, and take part in real-world actions, such as last month’s siege on the U.S. Capitol.

White nationalist organizations, a subset of the hate groups listed in the report, declined last year from 155 to 128. Those groups had seen huge growth the previous two years after being energized by Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency, the report said.

The number of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ hate groups remained largely stable, while their in-person organizing was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Bottom line, the levels of hate and bigotry in America have not diminished, said SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang.

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